The Tectonic Strain Theory and French’s “Haunted Room” Experiment – a Blog By Dr. Michael Persinger.

My Tectonic Strain Theory is alive and well – a Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger.

Despite claims to the contrary, there have been a number of replications, corroborations, and validations of my work with the Tectonic Strain Theory from several independent researchers.

Misleading claims that my work with Tectonic Strain Theory has not been replicated are based on the mistaken belief that its based on experiments.   Instead, the theory is based on a series of statistical analyses (replication procedures are for experiments, not statistical arguments).  To “replicate” a statistical study, one only has to obtain the data, and perform the necessary calculations.  In such a case, it would be more properly said to have been “corroborated” or “validated”, not replicated.  Critics, wanting to disparage my work in this field, have pointed to a “Haunted Room” experiment, and incorrectly implied that it was a test of my work on the relationship between geomagnetic conditions and the propensity to report paranormal and other unusual experiences.

Question: Does ChristopherGreat_Balls_of_Lightning French’s “haunted room study” have anything to do with your tectonic strain theory or the way you study the role of the earth’s magnetic field in paranormal experiences?

Answer:  No. French’s experiment has little (if any) relationship to the tectonic strain theory, which explains with the creation of luminosities (“lights in the sky”) before earthquakes.  We have found that these correlate with UFO sightings, apparitions, and other phenomena.  In brief, this theory tells us that electrical and magnetic fields produced by the bedrock while its being strained by the pressure that’s eventually discharged by an earthquake create luminous displays, like earth lights, ball lightning, and sometimes dramatic lights in the sky.  We also find that these fields can create unstable conditions in the brain, especially the deep portions of the temporal lobes.  This instability can lead to hallucinatory experiences which people interpret in terms of their cultural and learning history as well as their private beliefs, so they are interpreted and then seen as spirits, the Virgin Mary, angels, alien spacecraft or ghosts.  This idea has recently been independently proposed by another researcher, who hypothesizes that “ball lightning” may induce hallucinations (Witze, 2010).   My first publication in the field (1976) used the same concept to explain UFO reports.

French’s experiment consisted of trying to construct a “haunted room” by building a room and filling it with magnetic signals and infrasound.  The experiment did not succeed.  French is a well-known skeptic, but not experienced in the proper use of the “complex magnetic” neural stimulation we use in our lab.  We have been able to successfully perform several experiments, inducing paranormal experiences, and apparitions, using this technology, applied using the God Helmet ®.

French’s experiment used a wave pattern that could not have created the conditions for synthetic paranormal experiences because he was not able to generate the appropriate point durations we use in our lab.  The point durations (how long each bit of the signal lasts) are so important that altering them makes them ineffective. I e-mailed him and offered to share the equipment but he declined, and instead chose to develop his own apparatus, including a procedure in which “The … burst pattern was generated by constructing a table of values from (a) graph of the waveform used and then converting these numeric values…” (French, et al., 2008)

The graph French refers to here is a graph of point (X axis) and Field strength (Y axis).  However, the graph doesn’t display the durations of the points on the X axis.  We have kept that specific parameter flexible in order to allow experimentation with different point (or pixel) durations.  Incorrect point durations will yield ineffective signals.  Our many experiments with varying point durations have shown us that precision in this regard is critical.  A metaphor may be helpful here.  It is as though we hear the phrase “clean the turpentine brushes” as “queen a serpentine buses”.  The majority of the phonemes may be correct, but the information content will be absent, and the communication cannot initiate an appropriate response.

My colleague Todd Murphy, who has developed multiple systems that effectively deliver our (complex magnetic) signals points out in a brief web entry that Christopher French used the “Goldwave” audio editor to render his signals.  Professor Murphy used this same method early in 1999 for the first draft of his signals, which did not work.  His signals became effective only after he introduced his proprietary methods for developing the signals the following year.  We validated their effectiveness in a paper published in 2004.  The techniques used to render effective audio equivalents to our (God Helmet) signals were not applied in French’s Study.  Prof. Murphy informs me that his signals were drafted eighteen times overall.

French (at al.) edited his signal ” into a 16-bit.wav file using Goldwave (software) at a sample rate of 1000 Hz for playback via the computer’s soundcard.”  It may be relevant that Murphy’s signals do not use this sampling rate.

Subjects in our experiments are informed that they are participating in a “relaxation experiment”.  French’s subjects were “… informed in advance that they might experience unusual sensations whilst in the chamber …”.  The difference in “priming” may have predisposed his subjects towards apprehensiveness, and facilitated arousal, which we have found reduces effect sizes.

It may also be relevant that the background sound levels in the French study were significantly above the values we require to obtain the sensed presence. That’s why we employ the echoic (acoustically silent) chamber.  When we first started the research 30 years ago we employed New Age Music while the fields were presented and found the sensed presence was actually reduced. That’s why music was removed from the protocol. In addition, because the temporal lobes are discerning the applied fields (as are neuroimaging profiles indicate) sound pressure from any source is also represented within the temporal lobes, and interferes with the effect.  A significant portion of default mode temporal lobe excitation functions to monitor ambient sound.  Employing a truly silent environment recruits this activity into the neural responses to the signals.

Perhaps the most important difference between our procedures and those employed by French (at al.) is that they used a room to apply the signals, while we utilize a helmet, designed for the human head.  Our equipment allows us to apply our signals to either the left or right temporal lobes or both.  This allows us to perform our stimulation sessions with more than one hemispheric presentation.  Our “sensed presence” protocol involves stimulation of one hemisphere (the right) with one signal (derived from a “chirp” sequence) followed by another signal over both hemispheres.  This optimal design for eliciting the sensed presence has been published in the literature.

Utilizing an entire room to apply the signals means that 1) brain regions outside the temporal lobes are not excluded from the stimulation, and 2) it becomes impossible to target only one of the temporal lobes, as we commonly do in our work.  In fact, we have applied our signals in the context of a whole room, and found that whole-body exposures have minimal effects, if any, even when the signals are correctly configured.  We did not publish the study, due to its trivial character, and the non-trivial efforts required by scientific journals for publications.

There are a few online sources that mistakenly claim that our work in this area has not been replicated.  This is not the case.

Several kinds of research combine to support our geophysical research in this area.  The US Geological Survey has reported earth lights in conjunction with earthquakes.  Here is one example:

“During and immediately after the main shock, ‘earthquake lights’ of white to bluish flashes or glows lasting several seconds were reported by a number of observers. Earthquake lights are associated with major earthquakes and have been observed in Japan and California. The lights are believed to be results of earthquake-induced distortions of the atmosphere.”

Several researchers have confirmed our ideas about “earthlights”, and the idea has, in fact, become commonly-accepted (as for example in Smithsonian Magazine), though there continues to be debate on the subject.   A direct replication of some of my research appears in a study by Thériault (2014) titled “Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments” in Seismological Research Letters.  NASA now recognizes earthquake lights as precursors for earthquakes (Bluck, 2001).

“When the rocks in the Earth’s crust crackle and buckle under the onslaught of tectonic forces, the charges that are dormant in them are set free. They give rise to a dazzling array of phenomena, long known to mankind and even part of folklore in earthquake-prone regions around the globe,” said Freund. “These phenomena range from anomalous electric and magnetic signals, to ‘earthquake lights’ that illuminate the mountain tops and strange animal behavior as well as ionospheric effects that impact how radio waves travel over long distances.”

Japanese researchers (Takaki, 1998) have also observed “Change in seismic stress releases piezo-compensating, bound charges due to changes in the piezoelectric polarization of quartz grains in granitic rocks, which produces an intense electric field at the fault zone. The excited or ionized molecules by free electrons accelerated under the electric field produce luminous phenomena in the atmosphere” The also proposed “A model of dark discharge in the atmosphere before a large earthquake was proposed to elucidate the mechanism of generation of earthquake lightning and related electroatmospheric phenomena. Change in seismic stress releases piezo-compensating, bound charges due to changes in the piezoelectric polarization of quartz grains in granitic rocks, which produces an intense electric field at the fault zone.

Researchers at Rutgers University have carried out experiments that support the concept of earthquake lights by emulating earthquake conditions in the lab (Shinbrot, 2012).  These are reported as often being mistaken for UFOs, as in my tectonic strain theory of unusual events.

John Derr, a pioneer in this field of study, was one of the first to propose that geophysical strain could explain earthlights, and other luminous phenomena (Derr, 1986).

Paul Deveraux has published several books of his independent investigations showing the association of these earth lights with paranormal phenomena, which constitutes a replication and confirmation of my work in this area.

To summarize, Christopher French’s “haunted room” experiment was not a test of the tectonic strain theory in any way.  This theory has been independently validated, both in its geophysical hypothesis (that geological strain prior to earthquakes produces earth lights) and its power to explain paranormal (apparitions and UFOs) phenomena.

The theory met with criticism from one researcher, soon after it was published, and I published a reply.

I hope this blog will help to clarify my Tectonic Strain Theory, and to underscore that I am far from alone in these concepts.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6
Email: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.

 


References for this blog:

French CC, et al., The “Haunt” project: An attempt to build a “haunted” room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound, Cortex (2008), j.cortex.2007.10.011.

Persinger, M. A., Transient geophysical bases for ostensible UFO-related phenomena and associated verbal behavior? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1976, 43, 215-221.

Witze, Alexandra. “‘Ball lightning’may be hallucinatory.” Science News (2010): 12-12.

Robert Thériault, France St-Laurent, Friedemann T. Freund and John S. Derr “Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments” Seismological Research Letters, 2014 V. 85, No. 1 Pg. 159-178

Tsang EW, Koren SA, Persinger MA.  “Electrophysiological and quantitative electroencephalographic measurements after treatment by transcerebral magnetic fields generated by compact disc through a computer sound card: the Shakti treatment.”  International Journal of Neuroscience. 2004 Aug;114(8):1013-24.

Persinger Michael A,  “The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences” Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 13:4, Fall 2001

Bluck , John  NASA press release,

Shunji Takaki, Motoji Ikeya  “A Dark Discharge Model of Earthquake Lightning”  Japanese Journal of Applied Physics  09/1998; 37(9A):5016-5020.

Troy Shinbrot, Nam H. Kim, and N. Nirmal Thyagu  “Electrostatic precursors to granular slip events” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012 vol. 109 no. 27 10806–10810

P. Devereux, “Earthquake Lights Revelation,” Blandford, London, 1989.

Derr, John S.  “Rock mechanics: Luminous phenomena and their relationship to rock fracture” Nature 321, 470 – 471 (29 May 1986)

 


Corroborating studies:

Lipnicki DM. “An association between geomagnetic activity and dream bizarreness.” Medical Hypotheses. 2009 Jul;73(1):115-7.

Conesa J. “Isolated sleep paralysis, vivid dreams and geomagnetic influences: II. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1997 Oct;85(2):579-84.

Rapoport SI, Boldypakova TD, Malinovskaia NK, Oraevski? VN, Meshcheriakova SA, Breus TK, Sosnovski? AM. “Magnetic storms as a stress factor.” Biofizika [Biophysics]. 1998 Jul-Aug;43(4):632-9.

Dimitrova S, Stoilova I, Cholakov I. “Influence of local geomagnetic storms on arterial blood pressure.” Bioelectromagnetics. 2004 Sep;25(6):408-14.

Haraldsson, Erlendur; Gissurarson, Loftur R. “Does geomagnetic activity effect extrasensory perception? Personality and individual differences, 1987, v8 (n5):745-747
Berk M, Dodd S, Henry M. “Do ambient electromagnetic fields affect behaviour? A demonstration of the relationship between geomagnetic storm activity and suicide” Bioelectromagnetics. 2005 Nov 22;27(2):151-155

Raps A, Stoupel E, Shimshoni M. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXIX. Solar activity and admission of psychiatric patients. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1992 Apr;74(2):449-50.

 


An Incomplete Bibliography of my papers on geomagnetic effects:

Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXX. Intense paranormal experiences during days of quiet, global geomagnetic activity” Perceptual and Motor Skills 1985 Aug v61 (n1): 320-322

Arango, Manuel A.; Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical Variables and Human Behavior: LII Decreased Geomagnetic Activity and spontaneous Telepathic Experiences from the Sedgwick collection. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988 Dec v67 (n3):907-909

Persinger, Michael ; Krippner, Stanley. “Dream ESP and Geomagnetic Activity” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1989 Apr v83 (n2):101-116.

Makarec, K.; Persinger, Michael A. Geophysical variables and behavior XLIII “Negative correlation between Geophysical Variables between accuracy of card-guessing and geomagnetic activity: A Case Study” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1987 Aug, v65 (n1) 105-106

Gearhart, Livingston; Persinger, M.A. Geophysical variables and behavior XXXIII. Onsets of historical and contemporary poltergeist episodes occured with sudden increases in geomagnetic activity. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1986 Apr v62 (n2) 463-466

Persinger MA. “Out-of-body-like experiences are more probable in people with elevated complex partial epileptic-like signs during periods of enhanced geomagnetic activity: a nonlinear effect.” Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1995 Apr; v80 (2):563-9.

Schaut, George B. Persinger, Michael A. “Subjective telepathic experiences, geomagnetic activity, and the elf hypothesis: I Data Analysis” PSI Research, 1958 Mar, v4 (n1):4-20

Berger R.E.; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXVII. Quieter annual geomagnetic Activity and effect Size for Experiemntal psi (ESP) studies over six decades”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1991 Dec, v73 (n3, Pt2 Spec issue):1219-1223

Persinger, Michael A.; Nolan, Michael “Geophysical variables and behavior XX. “Weekly numbers of mining accidents and the weather matrix: The importance of geomagnetic variation and barometric pressure. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1984 Dec, v59 (n3):719-722

Lewicki, Dougals R.; Schaut, George H; Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior XLIV. Days of subjective precognitive experiences and the days before the actual events display correlated geomagnetic activity” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1987, aug, v65 (n1):173-174

Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: L Indications of a tectonic strain factor in the Rutlidge (UFO) observations during 1973 in southwest Missouri” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988 Oct, v67 (n2): 571-575

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. Relations between UFO reports within the Uinta Basin and local seismicity” Perceptual and Motor Skills 1985, Feb; 60 (1) :143-152

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXXII. Evaluations of UFO reports in an area of infrequent seismicity: The Carmen, Manitoba episode.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1985 Dec, v61 (n3, Pt1): 807-813

Derr, J.S.; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXXVI. Seasonal hydrological load and regional luminous phenomena (UFO reports) within river systems, the Mississippi Valley test” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1993 Dec, v77 (n3, Pt62), 1163-1170

Matteson, Dan; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXXV. Positive correlations between numbers of UFO reports and earthquake activity in Sweden.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1986 Oct, v63 (n2, Pt2) 921-922

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXII. Temporal coupling of UFO reports and seismic energy release within the Rio Grande rift system: discrimative validity of the tectonic strain theory.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1990 Oct, v71 (n2): 567-57

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XIX Strong temporal relationships between inclusive seismic measures and UFO reports within Washington state. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1984, 59, 551-566

John S. Derr & Michal A. Persinger ‘Geophysical Variables and Behavior: LIV. Zeitoun (Egypt) Apparations of the Virgin Mary as Tectonic Strain-induced Luminosities. Perceptual and Motor Skills 1989, 68, 123-128

 

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Richard Dawkins – Alcohol and the God Helmet don’t mix. – Dr. M.A. Persinger’s Blog

Dawkins had been drinking before his God Helmet Session, and that can interfere with its effects – a Blog by Dr. Michael Persinger.

Question: Richard Dawkins is seen drinking wine or wine mixed with soda water (a “Wine Cooler”) before his session with the God Helmet in the BBC video showing his visit to your lab. Had he been drinking before the session? Will alcohol interfere with the God Helmet effects?

Dawkins_Wine_cooler

Answer: Yes, he had been drinking. The scent was easily noticed. In addition, he was obliged to sit in hot lights within the chamber for almost an hour as the BBC director managed several television studio details before the experiment began. This forced us to deviate from our typical protocol where the person walks into the dimly lit chamber and we begin the experiment within a few minutes. We have found that intoxication, particularly ethanol, interferes with the experimental induction of the sensed presence. That is why we always employed an EEG monitoring at the time of the exposure. If the brain state is not optimal, similar to the calm or relaxation that facilitates meditation or prayer, the fields do not optimally interact.

In addition, Dawkins had a low score for temporal lobe sensitivity, as mentioned on several web pages (example).  Ordinarily, there are ways we can compensate, but these conditions made it difficult.  Getting a subject to relax can take time before the session begins, and on that occasion, we were already pressed for time.  Interested readers can see “The neurotourist: Postcards from the Edge of Brain Science“, where author Lone Frank, who visited our lab, tells how her EEG showed she wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and we waited until our EEG showed she was ready.  BBC procedures and Dawkins’ perfectly reasonable impatience made this impossible.  I have not mentioned these aspects of Dawkins experience in our lab as a courtesy to those involved, but the large and growing number of web pages discussing this case has made it clear that withholding these details now serves to distort the truth.

Two other prominent skeptics, Dr. Susan Blackmore and Michael Shermer, had phenomena-rich God Helmet sessions in our lab.  Michael Shermer (editor of Skeptic Magazine) said that he had “…not only a sensed presence experience but an out-of-body experience as well”, Dr Susan Blackmore said:  “When I went to Persinger’s lab and underwent his procedures I had the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “I’ll be surprised if it turns out to be a placebo effect.”   These are relevant in view of the mistaken online claim that the God Helmet doesn’t work on skeptics.

Nevertheless, in spite of these limitations, Richard Dawkins did have some effects, but they were somatic, and not cognitive or affective, as we usually see.  He reported a mild dizziness and twitching in his legs and a “twitchy” feeling in his breathing.

I hope that this brief blog will lend clarity to this well-known case history.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6
Email: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.

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Dawkins in chair

My theories are not based on religiousness in epileptics – Dr M. A. Persinger’s blog

Question: Are “microseizures” (a concept you have used to help explain religious experiences) actually epileptic events?  (A Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger)

Answer: No, although they do have some things in common with epileptic events (seizures) because they originate from the same source; i.e., moments of instability in the temporal lobes, most particularly in it’s deeper (limbic) regions.  Most phenomena that share a common cause are distributed along a continuum (or spectrum) of intensity with degrees of “how much” (or how strong).  For example, a few times during their lives, for brief periods, most people display the symptoms that define depression, thought disorders (such as schizophrenia) and personality disorders. However, it is only when the symptoms dominate the person’s behaviours more or less continuously, that the condition is considered abnormal.  To employ a metaphor, ordinary religious experiences rely on brief “unsettled” conditions in the temporal lobes, but not full temporal lobe epileptic seizures.

“Microseizures” is a term I borrowed from Goldensohn (1975, 1983) who described epileptic activity from the small columns within the cerebral cortices induced by surgical electrodes (that was not evident by typical scalp brain wave activity) to indicate subclinical electrical patterns that shared some features with (but were not the same as) epileptic events.  A more recent publication (Stead, et al., 2010) describes Goldensohn’s findings as follows:

“They demonstrated focal evolving microepileptiform discharges after penicillin injection on single electrodes in an array of electrodes spaced 2 mm apart with no reflection of the discharges on adjacent electrodes.”  link

In other words, electrical discharges creating EEG (electroencephalographic) patterns which are not unlike epileptic activity can appear from the brain.  These do not spread to other areas the way true epileptic seizure activity does.  Note that in the above quotation, such activity was read from one sensor, but the other, only two millimeters away, did not detect it.  This has been the primary exemplar of microseizures in my work.  To clarify further, microseizures are non-epileptic events that mimic seizural activity, taking place in exceedingly small (“pinpoint”) volumes of brain space.

My theory of the continuum of temporal lobe lability (offered as an explanation for the wide differences between religious and non-religious personality types and the propensity to report religious experiences) is not based upon the rich literature demonstrating links between religiosity and temporal lobe epileptics (and, more broadly, temporal lobe foci).  This link has been repeatedly observed and is still observed in some populations. Instead, my theory is based on laboratory measurements of normal, non-epileptic people. I think it is important to emphasize that the research began and continues to be focused upon creativity and the factors that allow human beings to adapt to complex and ever changing environments and circumstances. Sensitivity, but without actual epilepsy, at the upper end of the continuum of temporal lobe lability is associated with remarkable creativity.

Many epileptics have had religious experiences, but only a very small minority of people reporting such experiences are epileptics.  Moreover, only a very small percent of all epileptics report such experiences. We can easily understand how the relative importance of religion in human cultures has given them a disproportionate prominence in the literature surrounding the study of the neurological aspects of religion and spirituality, i.e., the field of neurotheology.

The sensed presence is a primary feature of above-average temporal lobe sensitivity.  It has been given different labels that range from the Muses of the Ancient Greeks to the “spirit guides” of contemporary New Age religion and philosophy.  My working explanation is that the sensed presence is the left hemispheric awareness of the right hemispheric equivalent of the sense of self. We have demonstrated the direction effect across the two hemispheres and lobes by neuroimaging.

Goldensohn ES. Initiation and propagation of epileptogenic foci. In: JK Penry and DD Daly, editors. Advances in neurology. New York: Raven Press; 1975.

Matt Stead (et al.)  “Microseizures and the spatiotemporal scales of human partial epilepsy”  Brain. 2010 Sep; 133(9): 2789–2797.

Goldensohn ES., “Symptomatology of nonconvulsive seizures: ictal and postictal.” Epilepsia. 1983;24 Suppl 1:S5-21.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6
Email: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.

Religious belief is not an epileptic phenomena – Dr. Michael A Persinger

Is religiosity an epileptic phenomenon? (A Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger)

Answer: The answer to the question, as stated, is “no”.  The microscopic connections between brain cells which are associated with certain patterns of behavior (These patterns are called personality in the vernacular) are altered by conditions within the temporal lobes that encourage frequent and very specific types of electrical patterns.  Only very extreme brief electrical activity that involves large volumes of the brain defines epilepsy.

Its important to differentiate three components: religious experiences, religious beliefs and religiosity (the propensity for interpreting events in terms of religious beliefs, as well as participating in religious rituals, showing reverence for religious symbols, etc.).  A religious experience will include perceptions that involve multiple areas but particularly the temporal lobes because they contain the amygdala which is involved with meaning and affect and the hippocampus, which is involved with memory.  However, like any other experiences, religious or spiritual events are encoded into verbal images. This involves or “recruits” the frontal portions of the brain.

Even when its subtle, the way a person labels the “cause” of a mystic experience, or what they attribute it to, is supplied by the person’s culture and learning history and this can have a significant effect on how they remember the experience hours to days later.  To offer a mundane example, people often hear words that upset them (for example, during arguments).  After the event has passed, they are very likely to speak of it referring to the words that made them angry or sad, and not a description of the discomfort they created.  The explanation supplants memories of the actual event.  This also happens with religious experiences.   The phenomena are recalled as instances and verifications of the themes in their religious beliefs.

The images associated with the words that we use to label a religious experience, without actively doing anything, strongly affect what we later remember as true.  A religious belief, like all beliefs, is a cognitive strategy.  Religious beliefs attempt to anticipate both events in the world, and our life experiences (including religious experiences) and organize their meaning. Religious belief is different from a religious experience.  A delusion differs from a belief to the extent that it affects the person’s explanations and perceptions of his or her own private world. Religiosity is the degree to which the experience infuses what the person perceives, thinks, and believes about the world and explains the Cosmos.  Delusions have implications about the person who has them, while religiosity includes beliefs about the entire universe, including its origins and eschatology.  Given that science also offers a cognitive strategy for anticipating events and interpreting their significance, maintaining a religious ideational framework (“belief system”) and its accompanying paradigms cannot be regarded as an epileptic phenomenon.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,

Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6

Email: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca 

NOTE:  This blog is hosted by a colleague.

New Edition of “Sacred Pathways: The Brain’s role in Religious and Mystic Experiences”

Sacred_Pathways_Cover_XX_sm

I’ve just finished a new  (second) edition of  Sacred Pathways: The brain’s role in Religious and Mystic Experiences“.  I remain grateful to both H.H. The Dalai Lama, and Dr. Michael A. Persinger for providing forewords to my book.  Although the reader feedback for the book is very positive, a couple have commented that they found proofreading errors, and asked that they be fixed.  I have done so.

In addition, I’ve made smaller additions throughout the text, as well as adding references for many statements.

Preparing the text for the second edition was a very fulfilling job that sent me back to the drawing board, and I learned a few new things along the way.

One important change is that recent evidence shows that only a small portion of the anterior commissure (AC) connects the two amygdala, which makes it even more likely that it would be changed during a dramatic spiritual experience.  Interestingly, most of the AC fibers connect the temporal lobes with each other.  In other primate species, they are exclusively dedicated to connecting the two amygdala to each other.

Another is that there is more emphasis on the role of the frontal lobes in such experiences, especially with respect to their connections to the brain’s reward circuits.

None of these changes call for any alteration in the book’s basic hypothesis, that religious and mystic experiences represent excitement in the “Sacred Pathways” that we evolved to support the death-process, as made explicit in Near-death experiences.

There are a few more illustrations, of brain circuits, some of the saints mentioned in the text, and of Yama, the fascinating lord of The Underworld in the mythologies of India, Thailand, China, and most of Southern Asia.  I’ve also put it into Amazon’s “Matchbook” program, so if you buy the paperback edition, you can get the kindle version for 1/3 of the regular price.  I don’t know why anyone would want to read it in both editions, but Amazon seems to think its a good idea, and they know more about kindle readers than I do.

It’s available in Paperback and Kindle E-Book.